He’d lived in Missoula for 50 years, but by 1922 Will Cave could still conjure up awe at the natural wonders around him.
In the last of a four-part series he wrote for the Missoulian on place names of the region, Cave (1863-1954) suggested the Indian equivalent of “Magnificent” for the Flathead River, and gives a hearty thumbs-up to their appellation “River of Awe” for what’s now the lower Clark Fork as it approaches Idaho.
Cave’s history lessons on Lavalle and Butler creeks, the Ninemile and the Jocko, and the all but forgotten Medicine Tree Hill east of Missoula brought the series to a fitting climax. An abridged version of his original story appears in this morning's Sunday Missoulian. This is the full text as it ran in the Sunday Missoulian on June 4, 1922.
The first three parts appeared in Sunday Missoulians on July 26, Aug. 2 and Aug. 9.
By WILL CAVE
Lavallie and Butler Creeks
Issuing from the hills and running through Grass valley are two small creeks which the Indians designated “Na-se-latkhu,” signifying “Two creeks running near together.” Named for a French blacksmith, Louis Lavallie, who located early there, both creeks bore his name for some years, until one Butler took a ranch along the easterly one. For long has been known that veins of coal underlie the ground about these creeks, but it is but now that the persistent endeavors of W.R. Glasscock seem to be meeting with reward in the uncovering of a quality bidding fair to effect a change in Missoula’s fuel affairs.
Near Lavallie creek at the foot of the hill, beside the old road leading over O’Keeffe creek, was the house built, I think, by Louis Lavallie, during the “70s,” owned and occupied by John Hammer. In October 1874, Charles Allard Sr. and Hammer were bringing a band of some thirty horses from Lewiston, Idaho, via the Lolo trail. Near the “Horseshoe Bend” along the top of the divide beyond the Locksaw, a rigorous snowstorm struck the travelers. They made camp as best they might. When the storm cleared there was ten feet of snow. Allard and Hammer were compelled to abandon the horses to their fate, themselves making their way out of the mountains only after a fearful and protracted struggle, without food. My memory photographs them, distinctly, as gaunt and emaciated they reached Missoula. I am told the heaped up bones of the horses made a “landmark” on the trail for years.
Some five years later, Hammer was killed by being thrown from “Grey Jack,” a real racehorse of the early days. Allard lived to become a “buffalo king” of the Flathead reservation.
Nine Mile and Its History
That a name so non-descriptive as Nine Mile should have been saddled upon a creek draining a valley of its broad proportions is inexplicable. It is peculiar, too, that the Indians had not applied to it any particularly significant title. And yet, perhaps they did. Who may now interpret “In-itz-cow-tatkhu,” a Toonaeliglhae term whose significance has been lost? Its present name seems to have been applied because the Mullan crossing the creek is nine miles from Frenchtown.
The contributions of this great timbered valley to the history of western Montana have been not altogether unimportant. It had its one-time gold stampede, not a wild, mad rush like others the pioneer has known, but a noticeable stampede at that. The Barrette, Housum and Dixon patents corralled the most likely ground, which has never been worked out. Still, many ounces of the yellow metal have been take from the camp. Yes, and there is many an ounce there yet. Some day a giant dredge or kindred type of apparatus will be installed up there and people will then wonder why the pay dirt was left undisturbed so long.
The valley’s more apparent wealth, its forests of yellow pine, is rapidly disappearing under modern lumbering methods; but there are many acres which eventually will respond to skillful effort of the man with the plow and as the years roll on the valley of the Nine Mile will still contribute its quota of things worth while to what may remain of old Missoula county, even if prohibition has diminished the attractions such as those over which our one-time friend old “Nine Mile” Brown held sway.
Jocko and Its Story
At the confluence of the Jocko and Flathead rivers there is quite an extensive thicket where grows the only wild plums known anywhere in the country. Members of the Hudson’s Bay company designated the fruit as prunes and called the smaller stream “Prune river.” Relative to his expedition in 1824, Alexander Ross refers to a stream as “Jacque’s Fork,” to my mind apparently indicating the Jocko, though Duncan McDonald thinks the reference was made instead to Magpie creek, about seven miles further west. My notion is that “Jacque’s” eventually become “Jocko.” McDonald contends that the present designation was applied because of “Jocko” Finley, a half-breed, using his influence successfully to prevent which otherwise might have been a bloody conflict between two Indian factions camped by the stream. At a point on the river, almost due north from the old Indian agency, there is a peculiar effect produced by the river’s having cut through a rock formation. Old-time Indians mentioned this point as “A stitch through a rock” and called the river “Tzi-tzaq-schin,” “stitched rock.”
Provide yourself with a good saddle horse, and if you are in condition to stand an all-day ride (if not you will better remain at home), start some morning from the old agency or vicinity; follow up the middle fork of the Jocko, and after you strike into the canyon you will travel a trail with conditions as you would have found them had your lived and gone that way a hundred years ago; the conditions prevailing until you cross over to the ranches on Placid creek. This trail is a short cut from the Jocko to the Clearwater and upper Blackfoot valleys. Over it from the east side of the mountains were driven the six buffalo which formed the nucleus of the Allard and Pablo herds, the disposal of which to the Canadian government probably impelled the sentiment which eventually led to the establishment of the Bison reserve. Beside the trail there are two lakes, called generally, the Jocko lakes. The upper is at the water shed, the outlets each side ebbing underground. It is calle “Ni-see-soo-tae,” Black Spotty. The lower lake, called “Chil-soo-soo-wae,” is but the result of a great slide from the mountain to the north, which at some ancient period filled the canyon below. The outlet to this lake also is underground, through the hog-back formed by the side. The equestrian may enjoy a day nowhere to more interesting advantage than by taking a trip over the Jocko trail.
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Since the days when the great explorers first viewed this land, a very considerable length of the might stream which they called Clark’s river has retained practically that designation. Today from the junction of the Missoula and Flathead or Pend d’Oreille to its confluence with the Kootenai it is known as Clark’s Fork. The Indian knew it as “in-chill-oom-natkhu,” “River of Awe.” Well named. For there are points along the river truly calculated to inspire awe in the mind of an observer even today. How much more so with its primal condition undisturbed. At Thompson Falls, at Tuscor rapids, at Heron rapids and at Cabinet gorge, especially when the flood of melting snows is at its crest, look on these and you will wonder not the Indians’ name. Where it broadens out we know it as Lake Pend d’Oreille.
While, of course, there is no tide to the lake, yet where the Clark’s Fork enters the Pend d’Oreille, during the freshet season, the waters rise and appear to back up in a manner somewhat similar to the rising of the tides in the mouth of a river which flows into the ocean; therefore the Indians gave to the lake the name, “In-chlm-uni-tzeen,” which means “Estuary.”
While we may not be strictly entitled to accredit the largest body of fresh water in the United States outside the Great Lakes as part and parcel precisely of this vicinity, yet Flathead lake is of such dimensions that reasonably it may be considered as belonging not to its immediate locality alone but, in a broad sense, to all our state. And then, it was within the limits of our one-time county; why should we not retain a sentimental if not directly proprietary interest in it? Significant was its Salish designation, “Sli-kate-tkhu.” Broadwater; conveying in some degree the idea of its expanse. However, that carried no further concept of the glory of its sublime environment. Or does its present name. Such impression may be gained only through intimate association. One must needs encircle it completely, then cross forth and back upon its bosom to obtain some notion of its grandeur. Not otherwise.
And its outlet, too, erstwhile the Pend d’Oreille, now generally termed the Flathead, is not tersely described by Sailish designation, “int-whar-tkhu,” “Straight, big stream.” That indeed may be suggestive of volume, but little of other characteristics. When that name was adopted it is evident its rapids and falls, its eddies and pools and its horse-shoe bends were not taken into consideration. One word, “Magnificent,” would have sufficed. What a world of power there, which one day will be harnessed to do the bidding of mankind.
River and lake, mountain and valley, north and south, east and west, combine to form a region where we, the especially privileged, fondly believe one may rove the globe around and find none more inviting.
Medicine Tree Hill
Even long after when first the paleface traveled the Hell Gate canyon, alongside the ancient trail, near the summit of the spur of the higher mountains on the south side of the canyon near Nimrod, stood a pine tree upon whose limbs the Indians were wont to bestow oblations in the form of bows, arrows, moccasions, skins, beads or tobacco. The white man, assuming that the native thereby to invoke the good will of the Great Spirit, erroneously called it a “Medicine Tree.” The old Mullan road was constructed over the Medicine Tree hill. Its route lay several hundred feet from trail and tree. Traveling first the road in 1865, and having heard something of the legend, through curiosity, my mother walked the Indian trail to see the tree. I am told my eyes, but two years aged then, also beheld the famous pine. It must be true, yet somehow my memory of the incident appears to play me false. Even a Medicine Tree may not withstand forever the ravages of time and storm. About the year 1870 a fierce gale of wind swept over the hill and when it had passed the prone trunk of the noted pine was scarce worthy of further veneration.
The legend concerning the tree is that a warrior traveling the trail unaccountably conceived the idea of adopting the tree on top of the hill as his object of personal reverence or worship. Making a mark on the tree, then standing a bowshot distant, he shot an arrow which with somewhat unexpected accuracy pierced its center. He accepted this as a sign that the tree acknowledged his reverential mien and had consented to be sponsor for his existence. He became a warrior, great among his people, and always after, when passing would hang some token upon his tree.
When the warrior had crossed the dark river to the happy hunting ground, in order to perpetuate his memory, his relatives and friends whenever at the tree, continued the custom he had originated; not however, in the belief that they were making conciliatory offerings to any supernatural being, but rather, this being the warrior’s only monument, when they left tokens there, they were reflecting a spirit such as displayed in the strewing of flowers upon graves on our own Memorial Day.
I have read another legend concerning the medicine tree, but as it is evidently the product of the vivid imagination of some other than an Indian I will not reproduce it here.
Perhaps tending to substantiate the doctrine of Universal Compensation, as a reward commensurate with his eternal energy, the most indefatigable of the animal kingdom receives from the Great Spirit a wondrous raiment, which not alone provides him with complete protection peculiar to the requirements of his native element, but which has been so envied by the lords of creation that for their own comfort, pleasure and profit they have stripped it from him by the million. The beaver was the prime incentive actuating the movements of the trappers and traders of the early fur companies. It may have been but natural then that some one of those adventures should sometime note the contour of the ridge which runs athwart the Hell Gate canyon near Bonita as resembling the caudal appendage of the first of all inland fur-bearers, and therefore apply to it the name Beavertail Hill. From the time in 1841 when Fathers De Smet, Point and Mengarini, with the lay brothers Joseph Specht and W. Classens, traversed the canyon first with wagons, carts and teams, down to 1919 when the present grade and cut were established, eliminating the old climb, one of the points of dread, chief in the canyon’s passage for the driver of any vehicle, motor or otherwise, was this hill, now undershot by two great railway tunnels.
Many years ago there was little timber or brush growing upon the ridge. But the bunch grass and weeds grew long. When the leaves dried and the seeds ripened in the autumn and the wind blew strong over the hill, a peculiar whirring or whistling noise might be detected by those traveling over it. Therefore the Indians called it “Tzis-t-k,” this being their interpretation of the sounds produced.
The Indians seem to have paid no great attention to naming points of the mountains. To the Bitter Root range they applied the name “Chi-quil-quil-kine,” meaning Red mountains or Red Range, this applying rather especially to the mountains about St. Mary’s Peak but there appears no specific designation for Mount Lo Lo. St. Mary’s Peak received its name from some one of the Jesuit father, probably DeSmet himself. Lo Lo has been accepted as the designation for that peak simply because of its being near the stream and valley of that name.
Mountain and valley, lake and stream, our vicinity furnishes material for a lifetime of interesting study to a lover of Nature and her moods.